Sunday, March 9, 2014
Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.
Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.
Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.
People ask me, as I explain my passion for a clean world free of plastic pollution, "What hope do you have to change things?" I tell them the truth:
I have little.
The problem is vast, the politicians are feckless, corporate interests are rich & entrenched. Plastic is everywhere. It’s used for literally everything now. It covers our “paperback” books; it’s embedded within “paper” salt and pepper packets; it’s even being used in currency.
We live now in a single-use, throwaway world of K-cup coffee and polystyrene dinnerware. Convenience is king, so we’ve all bought the lie that plastic is cheap.
As 2013 closes out, reflections naturally lap back in. We remember New Years’ celebrations past, and the highs & lows of the past year. We think on the clean slate laid out before us.
The spiral of life takes us back to the same points year after year. But takes us there with new perspective each time.
Every New Year the same, every New Year different.
The changing years are very much like the changing tides. The high waves scour the sand, wipe clear all the built-up tracks, prints, raindrops. And then recede, bit by bit. Yet they never leave the beach exactly as it was before. The slope changes. The sand changes. The wrackline changes.
If you have Google Earth, there's a fun little trick you can do.
Drag the globe over to the Pacific Ocean. Now drag down south a bit, a little bit more.
Eventually you wind up with this:
Have you ever visited a Maine beach in winter?
In March 2011, there was an accident at the wastewater treatment plant in Hooksett, NH. 4 million little plastic discs escaped and careened down the Merrimack River, toward the Gulf of Maine.
These round, 2” discs had been floating in the treatment tanks to give more surface area for sewage-eating bacteria to multiply. They were meant to boost efficiency at the plant.
Unfortunately, heavy rainfall and human error led to their release. Down the Merrimack they went. Within just a couple days large clumps of these discs were washing up on beaches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.